Why Do Black Students Perform Poorly on Standardized Tests?

A new study from Stanford University finds that Black students fear incorrect answers will confirm negative stereotypes about their race.

Posted: 08/07/2011 02:44 PM EDT
Filed Under education

Standardized tests like the SAT can make any student nervous, but a new study from Stanford University finds that Black students are especially susceptible to nerves.

 

The study concluded that African-American students perform poorly on standardized tests because they fear incorrect answers will confirm negative stereotypes about their race, The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education writes in an article published this week.

 

When students aren’t thinking about these stereotypes, they perform better on the tests.

 

The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education writes:

 

A new study at Stanford has shown that this “stereotype threat” can also hinder black students in learning new material. In an experiment, groups of black and white students were asked to study the meanings of 24 obscure words. One group was placed in a threatening environment by being told that they were participating in an experiment to see “how well people from different backgrounds learn.” Another group was simply told the researchers were examining different learning styles and there was no hint of any racial undertones.

 

One to two weeks later, the students were quizzed informally about the words they had studied. The results showed that black students who were initially in the group that was told racial differences were being examined, scored 50 percent lower than black students who had studied in the nonthreatening environment. But when an actual test was administered, the stereotype threat kicked in and both groups of black students performed poorly.

 

The new study was published in the August issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

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